Special Needs Parenting Stories: Meet Ray Bracht and His Family

This is a quest post by Ray Bracht. Ray Bracht is an autism dad and this is his story. 🙂

Hey, let’s get married. And let’s do so while both coming out of very recent divorces. Oh, let’s each bring a pre-teen Autistic son (on near opposite ends of the spectrum) and blend our families. We should also both move to a new house as well.

That’s how my wife and I started our family 13 years ago. Each of us came off of a fresh divorce, and each had a pre-teen son on the Autism spectrum whom we were primary custodial parents of. 

First, you might ask how two divorced parents with special needs kids met, dated, and married. We met match.com. Maybe I can get them to do a commercial and earn some residual income. Her profile mentioned that she sometimes went to train museums with her son. I immediately suspected that she had a son on the spectrum, as trains are definitely one of those things that kids on the spectrum tend to like. Our first in-person meetup was at a park playground, and I had my son in tow. We both passed our initial tests as we set up an actual first date. That first date was a nightmare. We decided to take a 3-hour car ride, with both kids in the backseat of the car, to see Thomas the Tank engine at a train museum. Her son yelled, swore, and kicked the back of the front seat most of the way. My son was also very upset due to all of the yelling and commotion. The ride back was similar and included a restaurant stop, which was also a disaster with behaviors. At the end of dinner, I asked her what she was doing the following weekend. That was the moment when she knew I was the one for her. We then attempted to “date,” which was a nearly impossible task.

Approximately 9-10 months later, we were married. The first several months were very stressful but went as well as we could have possibly planned. There were lots of things to work on with blending the families, including my 12ish-year-old son getting potty trained, her son having to share a house with a sibling and issues related to that, problems with her son trying to make things as bad as possible for us as he liked it better when he was the main focus of my wife, challenges with meal planning, activities, you name it. We incorporated professionals to assist with a home visit to try and provide suggestions, which resulted in no suggestions and mostly a surprise that we’d been able to do what we’d done. There were also challenges with ex-spouses’ parenting schedules not lining up so that we could have some weekend days to ourselves, etc. It wasn’t easy, but we didn’t give up on each other or the situation at hand. In the end, we persevered. Other challenges came as the boys got older, not so much related to each other or us, but in general, as is the case with most all Autistic kids… school issues, social issues, speech/OT/Therapy sessions, medical challenges, the list goes on. We tackled each one as they came up and carried on. 

Our sons are now in their 20’s, mine 26 and hers 24. My son still lives at home with us, and her son has his own apartment and receives help from his Dad, who is now much more involved in his life, as well as from my wife. Schools and transitional programs are now long past, and we’re faced with adult and future planning challenges. My son is in an adult day program for work, but there are very few options for him regarding social events and activities and almost none regarding the next steps from a living outside-of-the-home perspective. Being the caretaker for an adult with special needs is extraordinarily stressful and causes many unseen and unplanned challenges. It’s also very important, so there isn’t any shortcutting. It just is what it is. 

Both my wife and I are VERY tired now and have likely aged mentally and physically way more than others without special needs kids over the course of our marriage. I can literally sleep standing up. We’re still very much in love with one another, and we likely wouldn’t do anything differently since we’ve been together. That said, it’s been a complete ass-kicker. We’ve lost most of our friends and social activities as those things can’t compete with all that goes into caring for our kids, then and now. The few social activities that we do have generally involved one or both of our kids. On those few opportunities that we have to be “kid-less” for a few days, it’s generally spent trying to sleep or do all of those things that we haven’t been able to do during the week. Also, when we’re able to check out, you’re never really able to completely check out as the phone is always on, and you’re always anticipating a phone call related to one of the kids. Their needs NEVER go away. We’ve not had the luxury of having parents or siblings to help out – it’s literally just us. 

Our primary focus now is to try and get as much time as we can, while we can, to enjoy life as much as we’re able to. This generally includes having my son with him, but we yearn for the day in which he can live in a home with some of his friends and co-workers where he can thrive and where we can not have to worry about him 24×7. We’re hoping that this utopia occurs before we’re too old or unable to enjoy life. Being the primary caregiver for an adult with special needs, and even to a much less extent, an adult with special needs who doesn’t live at home anymore is a heavy burden that leaves hardly any time for anything or anyone else. Needing to transition into the next phase can’t come soon enough. This is not negative regarding caring for my son or her involvement with her son, but rather a result of the tanks being on or near empty. There just doesn’t seem to be a gas or charging station in sight. 

Even though blending our families and all that came with doing so was incredibly difficult, we both know it was the best and right decision for them and ourselves. The reward is how they turned out as young adults and so incredibly far that they’ve come. Our story isn’t over yet, but we’re hoping that we can write the final chapters with great memories of enjoying one another’s company and that our sons can live life to their fullest potential and be as happy as possible as they can themselves age.

By Ray Bracht

Ray is the father of a young adult dude with Autism who lives at home with him and his wife on their hobby farm in semi-rural Minnesota. Ray works in IT, 100% remotely, and his wife is a paraprofessional who works with DCD high schoolers in a nearby town. Both Ray and his wife, who is Cam’s step-mom, are legal guardians and are currently faced with challenges related to transitioning to adulthood and what the future looks like for Cam. The family enjoys camping in their travel trailer, concerts, movies, plays, and gardening.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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